Saying Phosphorescent's tribute album to Willie Nelson is redolent of history is an understatement -- besides the subject of the album itself, the title acts as a specific reference to Nelson's own 1975 tribute to Lefty Frizzell, To Lefty from Willie. There's a danger of well-meaning overkill and clinging associations at work as a result, which the album has to struggle through. Still, it's also an interesting sign of just how much certain goal posts in the world of indie rock have changed over time -- the fascination with older, more "real" country has been present since the days of X and the Blasters, to name two bands out of many, and Nelson's own well-established outsider/outlaw image is a perfect one to hang one's hat on. Mathew Houck aka Phosphorescent and a crew of backing musicians aim to do just that on To Willie and if by default it can't fully capture the killer resonance of Nelson's immediately recognizable vocals and twang, Houck's singing is far more hushed in comparison, though to his credit he doesn't specifically aim to sound like Nelson in terms of out-and-out mimicry -- the whole is still a game enough effort, if nothing else showing Houck's excellent taste in song choices. (A collection of the Nelson performances of each track would make one heck of a mix disc.) Kicking off with a double-tip of the hat -- "Reasons to Quit," written by Merle Haggard rather than by Nelson but a standard for both men -- To Willie generally maintains a steady, softly woozy late-night singalong feeling throughout its length, with some performances giving Houck and his band a real chance to shine instrumentally. "Walkin'" features the most musicians on a track -- seven total, with some lovely pedal steel work by Ricky Ray Jackson -- while Hank Cochran's "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" is a full one-man-band effort. Another winner is "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way," with Houck and Angel Deradoorian sharing vocals over music that uses a spartan yet lovely guitar/bass arrangement.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett